Wednesday, March 3, 2021
Oregon governor Kate Brown has been fighting to reopen the state’s schools, some 80 percent of which remain fully remote. Her efforts included providing schools with masks, testing, and ventilation, and giving teachers access to vaccines. Portland Association of Teachers president Elizabeth Thiel remained unmoved by these offers. “It landed a bit as a trap,” she told the New York Times. “It was, like, ‘We’re giving you the vaccine — now open schools for live instruction, no matter what.’ But these are life-and-death decisions that we need to get right.”
Thiel’s stance lies toward the extreme end of the spectrum, but it is hardly unique. Many teachers unions have insisted, in contradiction to the CDC’s official guidance, that schools should be reopened only when all teachers are vaccinated, and in some cases not even then.
The misalignment between the self-interest of teachers and the public interest certainly helps explain these decisions. Many cities and states have closed schools while opening bars and restaurants because bar and restaurant owners have a huge personal stake in accepting health risks, while teachers do not.